Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #5 – from Tabriz to Zanjan

Ania and Maryam in a traditional Iranian tea house - headrer

Staying in Tabriz with two star crossed lovers

Tabriz was our first stop in Iran and we didn’t really know what to expect. One thing we did learn very quickly, however, was that Iranian people love driving. We spent the first few hours with our host Ismail cruising around in seemingly ever increasing circles, some might say aimlessly, and this was even before things got weird.

Ania and Maryam in a traditional Iranian tea house. from Tabriz to Zanjan

Ania and Maryam in a traditional Iranian tea house

Ismail lived with his girlfriend, Maryam. Not a strange thing for you and me but in Iranian culture they were breaking one of the biggest taboos, so the arrangement had to be kept secret. So in fair Tabriz where we lay our scene, four people could be found in the dead of night, split into two groups, men and women, trying to enter a one room lovers den whilst avoiding being seen by the neighbours. The tension was palpable and infectious and we all felt like criminals.

Both of them were desperate to leave Iran, and were planning to start a new life in Canada provided that they could get visas. They wanted to not have to live in fear of the police, to not have to wear a head scarf and most of all to be able to live together.

Tabriz itself was a big beast of a city that I never really felt I had a grip on, partly because everywhere we went was in a car. It did have a wonderfully atmospheric bazaar, and we spent a very enjoyable day walking its confusing maze of alleys before being invited by an old man into a traditional water pipe, men-only cafe where we attracted a great deal of generally friendly attention.

Kandovan, Iran (11) - Ania and Jon. from Tabriz to ZanjanWe also had a lovely day trip with our hosts to the village of Kandovan, 60 km outside the city. Reminiscent of a little Cappadocia but without the tourists, what really appealed to us was the fact that people actually lived in the dwellings carved out of the rock face and were more than happy to invite us into their abodes.

Hitchhiking to Zanjan

The hitchhike to Zanjan began early, with the added advantage of Ismail driving us to the edge of the city. Unfortunately he left us on the wrong road, but an English speaking guy who was on a trip to the mountains with his family corrected the error and drove us to the motorway. From here, two lifts took us to the outskirts of Zanjan, the second with another English speaker who worked as a engineer for the government but he told us he couldn’t give us any details of his work (nuclear program alert!).

From just outside Zanjan a super nice man named Ali stopped and offered to drive us into town. By chance he knew of our new host, also called Ali, and was kind enough to wait with us while we tried to contact him. Lovely people these Iranians.

written by: Jon

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